In 2015, all 80 of New Jersey’s State Assembly seats were up for election. Coming into the election, 48 of those seats were held by Democrats and 32 by Republicans. New Jersey’s Assembly elections are held in 40 different districts, each of which elects two Assemblymembers. These elections were broadly predicted to have low turnout due to there being no other state or federal elections to drive turnout, but it was unclear which party would benefit from that, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s increasing unpopularity at home as he runs for President has also had an impact on the elections. In the end, it was the Democrats who had a successful election – they easily held all of their seats, and defeated four Republican incumbents in three different districts, leaving the Assembly with a post-election makeup of 52 Democrats and 28 Republicans. None of the open seats changed parties. The Dems’ 52-28 majority is the largest majority the Democrats have had in the Assembly since the 1970s.
But how did the Democrats do so well? Which towns did they win or lose? How did voter turnout differ between towns? How did the Democrats’ performance in 2015 compare to Obama’s performance in 2012? Continue reading for the answers to these questions, district-by-district analysis of the results, and some pretty cool maps.
District 1 saw a Democratic win, with incumbent Democrat Bob Andrzejczak of Middle Township and his running mate, challenger R. Bruce Land of Vineland, defeating the Republicans, incumbent Sam Fiocchi of Vineland, and Jim Sauro. Andrzejczak and Land benefited greatly from the strong support of District 1’s popular state senator, Jeff Van Drew of Dennis Township, so much that the three of them campaigned together as the “Van Drew Team”. Democrats won Cape May County (which no statewide Democrat has done in over 20 years) and performed very well in the rural areas of Cumberland and Atlantic that are in the district. However, despite their win, the Dems underperformed in areas with large minority populations, including Woodbine, Fairfield Township, and especially Vineland, the largest municipality in the district. But the Dems’ overperformances in the more conservative rural areas, plus the comparatively high turnout in those same areas, sealed the Democrats’ victory.
District 2 saw both of its incumbents, Chris Brown (R-Ventnor City) and Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) re-elected. Brown received the most votes, and the third-place finisher was a Democrat, so the 1-1 split here was not much threatened. Republicans won both of the large townships here, Egg Harbor and Hamilton, as well as most of the cities on or near the coast. Democrats scored big wins in their two strongholds here, Atlantic City and Pleasantville, along with Mazzeo’s hometown of Northfield and two other smaller municipalities. Considering that the district voted in the high 50s for Obama, Democrats underperformed almost everywhere, except for Northfield, the neighboring city of Linwood, and the tiny coastal town of Longport. As usual, Atlantic City and Pleasantville saw the worst turnout, with most of their neighboring cities having much higher turnout, but enough voters in Atlantic City and Pleasantville voted in order to elect one Democrat; not quite enough voted in order to elect two.
District 3 saw both Democratic incumbents, John Burzichelli of Paulsboro and Adam Taliaferro of Woolwich, re-elected fairly easily. Their map looks relatively similar to a normal D vs. R map of the area, and while the Dems overperformed in a few towns and underperformed in a few others, they generally did about as well as generic statewide Dems do in this area. One reason for this may be that most of the district, particularly the Salem County portions, had relatively high turnout compared to the rest of the state.
District 4, containing several large suburban townships in Camden and Gloucester Counties, easily re-elected both Democratic incumbents, Paul Moriarty of Washington Township and Gabriela Mosquera of Gloucester Township. The pair won every municipality in their district, and generally improved on Obama’s performance in Gloucester County while underperforming Obama in Camden County.
District 5 is another heavily-Democratic district based in Camden and Gloucester, which had both of its Assembly seats open for this election. Democrats Patricia Egan Jones of Barrington and Arthur Barclay of Camden were easily elected, losing only heavily-Republican Harrison Township in Gloucester County. The pair outperformed Obama in Deptford and Mantua, underperformed Obama in Camden and Woodbury, and ran roughly even with Obama in most other towns.
District 6 is the last of the Camden County-based Democratic districts, and it saw both of its incumbents, Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees) and Pamela Rosen Lampitt (D-Cherry Hill) easily re-elected. They won every municipality in the district, and heavily outperformed Obama in Cherry Hill. They also underperformed Obama in Pennsauken (most likely because Pennsauken’s large minority population has lower turnout rates in off-year elections such as this one), and ran even with Obama in Voorhees. The turnout numbers bear this out, as turnout was close to the state median in Cherry Hill and Voorhees but substantially lower in Pennsauken.
District 7, based in the riverfront areas of Burlington County, is the only LD in New Jersey that has consistently elected senators and representatives of different parties in landslides. The Democratic incumbents here, Herb Conaway of Moorestown and Troy Singleton of Palmyra, were both easily re-elected here, losing only Moorestown (by a very narrow margin) and Cinnaminson. They slightly outperformed Obama in the Bordentown area, and mildly underperformed him almost everywhere else. Turnout here was generally above the state average, and particularly high in Palmyra, Riverton, Delanco, Burlington City, and Florence.
District 8, located in central Burlington County, was the only district that the Democrats did not contest, thus allowing the Republicans, Maria Rodriguez-Gregg and Joe Howarth, to win unopposed. In retrospect, the decision by Democrats not to contest this district seems odd, since it has roughly the same partisanship as LD-16, where Democrats picked up a seat. Due to the Democrats’ not contesting this district, turnout was very low across the board, and that low turnout may have helped Republicans in Burlington’s countywide elections, where they did quite well.
District 9, based in southern Ocean County and including parts of Atlantic and Burlington, strongly re-elected its Republican incumbents, Brian Rumpf of Little Egg Harbor and DiAnne Gove of Long Beach. This election wasn’t very interesting, as Rumpf and Gove easily won every municipality in the district, and outperformed Romney by wide margins almost everywhere.
District 10, based in Toms River, Brick, and Manchester, was also generally a snoozefest, where Republican incumbents David Wolfe of Brick and Gregory McGuckin of Toms River were easily re-elected and won every municipality. The only interesting thing about this election is that while the Republicans heavily outperformed Romney in Toms River and Manchester, they slightly underperformed him in Brick. Brick has a popular, Democratic-controlled local government, so it’s possible that some of Brick’s local Democratic-ness is trickling up the ballot.
District 11, based in central Monmouth from Freehold to Long Branch, saw a political earthquake happen. Both of its Republican incumbents, Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande, who won re-election easily in 2013, were defeated by their Democratic challengers, Eric Houghtaling of Neptune Township and Joann Downey of Freehold Township. This defeat was largely unexpected despite the fact that the 11th was the second-most-Democratic district represented by a Republican in the Assembly (Chris Brown in the 2nd takes the top spot). How did Houghtaling and Downey do it? They racked up the necessary margins in the three heavily-Democratic towns in the district: Asbury Park, Neptune Township, and Long Branch. They ran respectably in Ocean Township, Eatontown, and Tinton Falls, posting only narrow losses there. And they were able to hold their losses down in Freehold. The Democrats underperformed Obama in every town except Deal and West Long Branch, but in some of the larger towns like Freehold Township, Colts Neck, and Tinton Falls, it was only by a small margin. They were also able to keep turnout above the state median in Neptune, Tinton Falls, Eatontown, and Red Bank. This may not seem like a particularly impressive performance for the Democrats, but the crucial point here is that the district voted for Obama by 11 points, so the Dems didn’t need to post a particularly impressive performance in order to defeat the Republicans. If I were Jennifer Beck, the Republican state senator from this district, I’d be pretty worried right about now.
District 12, an oddly-shaped district that includes Jackson Township, Manalapan, and Old Bridge, easily re-elected its Republican incumbents, Ronald Dancer of Plumsted and Robert Clifton of Matawan. The Republicans won every township in the district by wide margins except Old Bridge, which was very close between the two parties. Only the tiny borough of Roosevelt gave the Dems a majority here. The Republicans outperformed Romney in every municipality in the district, and the Burlington County municipalities by the widest margins. Turnout was generally below the state median, except for North Hanover, Allentown, Roosevelt, and Matawan.
District 13, based in northern Monmouth, handily re-elected its Republican incumbents, Amy Handlin of Middletown and Declan O’Scanlon of Little Silver. The Republicans romped in their base areas of Middletown, Holmdel, and Fair Haven, while the Democrats narrowly won Aberdeen, and the parties were very close in Keansburg, Keyport, and Atlantic Highlands. The Republicans outperformed Romney in every municipality, however their margin of overperformance was markedly smaller in Marlboro than in the other towns. Turnout was a mixed bag here: quite high in Oceanport, Little Silver, and Fair Haven, while much lower in Middletown.
District 14, based in Monroe and Hamilton, used to be a hotly contested district, but it appears that the Democrats have tightened their hold on it, as Democratic incumbents Wayne DeAngelo and Dan Benson, both of Hamilton, easily won re-election. The only town where the Democrats failed to receive a majority was Milltown, and they outperformed Obama in Monroe, Robbinsville, and Hamilton. East Windsor saw the Dems mildly underperform Obama, while Plainsboro and Cranbury saw small underperformances. Turnout was quite high in Monroe and Hamilton, very low in Plainsboro, and closer to the median everywhere else.
District 15 is heavily Democratic and based in Trenton and its northern suburbs. The incumbent Democrats, Reed Gusciora of Trenton and Elizabeth Maher Muoio of Pennington, both won re-election in landslides. They lost only the two townships in Hunterdon County, but they actually won the portion of the district in Hunterdon due to Lambertville, a heavily-Democratic town in Hunterdon. Overall they ran roughly even with Obama, outperforming him in Lawrence, Hopewell, and East Amwell, while underperforming him in West Amwell, West Windsor, and Trenton. Turnout here essentially got higher the further you go from Trenton – Hopewell and the Amwells had quite good turnout, while Trenton’s was terrible and the remainder of the district saw close-to-average turnout.
District 16 saw a result that was possibly even more unexpected than the result in LD-11. The district had never previously elected a Democrat, and used to be almost entirely in Somerset, but the 2011 redistricting removed heavily-Republican North Somerset and added a few deep-red towns in Hunterdon and, crucially, the heavily-Democratic towns of Princeton and South Brunswick. Despite those changes, and the fact that the district voted 53 percent for Obama, its Republican Assemblymembers never had any trouble winning re-election – until 2015. In a very close election between the 4 candidates, Republican incumbent Jack Ciattarelli of Hillsborough won re-election, but his running mate, incumbent Donna Simon of Readington, was defeated by 78 votes by one of the Democratic challengers, Andrew Zwicker of South Brunswick, a physicist at Princeton. This was 2015’s closest New Jersey Assembly race, and it wasn’t decided until a week after the election. The 16th was one of only two districts (the 2nd being the other) to elect one Assemblymember from each party rather than both from the same party. Zwicker and his running mate, Maureen Vella, underperformed Obama in the Republican core of the district (Hillsborough, Branchburg, Raritan, and Readington), but ran much closer to him in Montgomery and actually outperformed Obama in Princeton and South Brunswick. The Democrats’ crucial wins were Montgomery and Somerville, which normally vote Republican in state legislative elections.
District 17 is a Democratic vote sink centered on New Brunswick and also containing North Brunswick, Piscataway, and Franklin. Democratic incumbents Joseph Egan of New Brunswick and Joseph Danielsen of Franklin won re-election in massive landslides and won every municipality in the district. Due to the district’s large minority population that has lower voter turnout rates, Democrats underperformed Obama here everywhere except Milltown, and in fact turnout here was below the state average everywhere except Milltown. New Brunswick’s turnout was particularly low – only 8 percent of registered voters. Even in presidential elections, fewer than half of New Brunswick voters turn out, so Democrats in Middlesex County should definitely focus on that.
District 18 is based in Edison and East Brunswick and also contains several smaller neighboring towns. After seeing a relatively close election in 2013, Democratic incumbents Pat Diegnan of South Plainfield and Nancy Pinkin of East Brunswick were easily re-elected here, winning every municipality except Helmetta. They substantially outperformed Obama in both Edison and East Brunswick despite the fact that both towns saw below-average turnout.
District 19 is based in Woodbridge and also includes Perth Amboy, Sayreville, and Carteret. Democratic incumbents John Wisniewski of Sayreville and Craig Coughlin of Woodbridge won re-election in a massive landslide, winning every municipality in the district. The Dems massively outperformed Obama in Woodbridge, winning over ¾ of the vote there. Turnout was close to the median in Sayreville and Woodbridge but very low in Perth Amboy and Carteret.
District 20 is based in Elizabeth and is heavily Democratic. Democratic incumbents Annette Quijano of Elizabeth and Jamel Holley of Roselle won in the huge landslides that are typical for Democrats in this district. They got below 80 percent in only Union Township, though they did underperform Obama in all four municipalities. Turnout was very low across the board here, as it was in most heavily urban districts in 2015.
District 21 is based in central Union County, and is gerrymandered out to Morris and Somerset to ensure that it will be won by Republicans. Its Assemblymembers, Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and Nancy Munoz (R-Summit), were comfortably re-elected. Bramnick is the Minority Leader in the Assembly, and was in charge of electing more Republicans to the Assembly in 2015, a job in which he was last seen failing terribly at. Bramnick has built up the Westfield Republicans into a machine, which is how he got over 60 percent there despite Obama’s winning it in 2012. Republicans lost only Roselle Park and Springfield, and outperformed Romney almost everywhere. As this is a pretty rich area, turnout was relatively good, but not all rich areas are the same – Union County saw generally good turnout while it was much lower in Somerset.
District 22 contains southern Union County, and is bipolar, with Linden and Rahway in the east and the Plainfield area in the west. Democratic incumbent Jerry Green of Plainfield and his new running mate, Jim Kennedy of Rahway, handily won the election, losing only Clark, Green Brook, and Dunellen. They underperformed Obama everywhere except Fanwood, which isn’t too surprising because of the large low-turnout minority populations in Rahway, Plainfield, and North Plainfield. In fact, the only municipality in the district to see turnout that wasn’t terrible was Middlesex.
District 23 is based in Hunterdon and Warren Counties, and includes an arm over to Bridgewater. All these areas are Republican, and the Republican incumbents here, John DiMaio of Hackettstown and Erik Peterson of Franklin Township (Hunterdon) won re-election in a landslide. They won every municipality except Phillipsburg and Frenchtown, and outperformed Romney everywhere except the town of Clinton, mostly by wide margins. Interestingly, turnout was respectable in Bridgewater and its nearby towns, and very low in most other places.
District 24 is based in Sussex County and also includes parts of Warren and Morris. This is one of the most Republican districts in New Jersey, and the Republican candidates here, incumbent Parker Space of Wantage and his running mate Gail Phoebus of Andover Township, won their election in an enormous landslide. They won every municipality in the district, all but one with over 55 percent, and all but four with over 60 percent. They also outperformed Romney by at least 5 percent in every single municipality in the district. Turnout was a mixed bag – mostly low in Warren, Morris, and Sparta Township in Sussex, but higher in Vernon and some other townships in Sussex.
District 25 is located in central Morris County, and contains a few Democratic towns and a larger number of Republican towns. The Republican incumbents here, Tony Bucco of Boonton Town and Michael Patrick Carroll of Morris Township, won re-election fairly solidly, losing only Dover, Victory Gardens, and Morristown, all of which have large minority populations. The Republicans’ wins here were not as robust as those in the 23rd and 24th districts, as they outperformed Romney only in the Dover, and Boonton areas, and ran roughly even with him in Roxbury, Randolph, and the Chester and Mendham areas. Turnout was generally low here, even in the rich areas; the only exceptions were Boonton Town, Morris Township, and Bernardsville.
District 26 is yet another exurban Republican district, based in Morris and including parts of Essex and Passaic. Republican incumbents Jay Webber of Morris Plains and BettyLou DeCroce of Parsippany-Troy Hills had no trouble winning re-election, and won every town except Verona. They substantially outperformed Romney in West Milford and the Morris portion of the district, while underperforming him in the Essex portion. Almost the entire district, except for West Milford, saw very low turnout.
District 27 is a bit of a strange district, combining southeastern Morris County with western and parts of central Essex County. Politically, however, the district is dominated by three Essex towns: West Orange, South Orange, and Maplewood, which give the district its strong Democratic tilt. The Democratic incumbents, John McKeon of West Orange and Mila Jasey of South Orange, easily won the Essex portion of the district, and heavily lost the Morris portion, however the Essex portion is more populous, so they won fairly easily. The Democrats outperformed Obama in every Essex town except Millburn, and additionally in East Hanover and Madison; their largest improvements over Obama were in East Hanover and Livingston. East Hanover, similar to Brick, votes Republican in state and federal elections but is controlled by Democrats at the local level, and clearly some of the voters who re-elected East Hanover’s Democratic mayor in a massive landslide last year also decided to vote Democratic for state Assembly. In addition, East Hanover saw very high turnout in this election, which definitely helped the Dems outperform Obama by the margin that they did.
District 28 is a majority-African-American district that contains Irvington, Bloomfield, Nutley, and Glen Ridge as well as a portion of Newark. Incumbent Democrats Ralph Caputo of Nutley and Cleopatra Tucker of Newark both won re-election in enormous landslides, and heavily outperformed Obama in Nutley, Bloomfield, and Glen Ridge. Turnout was extremely low here.
District 29 consists of Belleville and the remainder of Newark. It has large African-American and Hispanic populations, and Democratic incumbents L. Grace Spencer and Eliana Pintor Marin, both of Newark, won their elections by massive margins. They substantially underperformed in Belleville, but since Belleville is only about 20 percent of the district, that didn’t matter much. Turnout was again extremely low everywhere here.
District 30 is in Monmouth and Ocean Counties, based in Lakewood, Howell, and Wall. Republican incumbents Sean Kean and Dave Rible, both of Wall, won their re-election by very wide margins. They won every town in the district, and the Democrats only came close in Lake Como and Bradley Beach. The Republicans outperformed Romney by large margins in every town. Turnout here tended to be higher in towns along the Jersey Shore, and lower in inland towns such as Howell.
District 31 contains Bayonne and part of Jersey City. Both of this district’s seats were open for this election, and they were handily won by Democrats Angela McKnight of Jersey City and Nicholas Chiaravalloti of Bayonne. They underperformed Obama in both cities in the district, and, unsurprisingly, suffered from very low turnout, but still posted solid wins in this dark blue district.
District 32 includes North Bergen, West New York, and Kearny. Democratic incumbents Vincent Prieto of Secaucus, the current Speaker of the Assembly, and Angelica Jimenez of West New York won re-election by overwhelming margins. So overwhelming, in fact, that Secaucus has the distinction of being the town where Democratic Assembly candidates outperformed Obama by the largest margin – in Secaucus’ case, a massive 24 percent. The pair outperformed Obama in every other town in the district as well except West New York. Turnout was low, but not quite as low as in the Newark-based districts.
District 33 is Union City, Weehawken, Hoboken, and a portion of Jersey City. This heavily Democratic district gave the Democratic candidates, Annette Chaparro of Hoboken and Raj Mukherji of Jersey City, a large victory. The Democrats outperformed Obama in three of the four municipalities here; all except Jersey City. Turnout here was low everywhere except Union City, where it was closer to the state median – clearly the Union City Democratic machine had some role in that.
District 34 consists of four municipalities: East Orange, Orange, Montclair, and Clifton. All of these towns are heavily Democratic, and the Democratic incumbents, Thomas Giblin of Montclair and Sheila Oliver of East Orange, won re-election in huge landslides. Clifton was the only close town, and the Democrats underperformed Obama there, but that was due to parochial concerns, and wasn’t an obstacle for the Dems. Turnout was very low everywhere in this district.
District 35 is based in Paterson. Democratic incumbents Shavonda Sumter and Benjie Wimberly, both of Paterson, won massive re-elections, and lost only the deep-red town of North Haledon. They underperformed Obama everywhere except in Garfield, but not by anywhere near a large enough margin to matter. Turnout here was exceptionally low in Paterson and Garfield, okay in Elmwood Park, and higher in North Haledon, which had competitive municipal races.
District 36 is based in the Meadowlands and southern Bergen County, and also includes Passaic. Democratic incumbents Gary Schaer of Passaic and Marlene Caride of Ridgefield won solid re-elections, losing only Carlstadt and East Rutherford. Overall they ran slightly ahead of Obama, but they substantially outperformed Obama in Lyndhurst, Passaic, Wood-Ridge, Moonachie, and Cliffside Park, while substantially underperforming him in Rutherford, East Rutherford, Carlstadt, and Wallington. Turnout was also a mixed bag, with the district seeing high turnout in Rutherford, Carlstadt, and Ridgefield; and low turnout in Lyndhurst, Passaic, and Ridgefield Park.
District 37 takes in the most Democratic areas of Bergen, including Hackensack, Teaneck, Englewood, and Fort Lee. Its incumbent Democratic Assemblymembers, Valerie Huttle and Gordon Johnson, both of Englewood, won re-election by a very wide margin, losing only Englewood Cliffs, Alpine, and Rockleigh (the latter two of which have tiny populations). Huttle and Johnson broadly outperformed Obama across the district, only underperforming him in Bogota, Palisades Park (which has a large Asian population that doesn’t vote in off-years), and Rockleigh (whose tiny population makes it susceptible to wild swings). Democrats’ largest overperformances of Obama occurred in Teaneck, Englewood, Leonia, Fort Lee, and Alpine. Turnout was broadly below the state median, with only Englewood Cliffs, Bogota, and Tenafly having higher turnout.
District 38, located in central Bergen County, had a very interesting election. The 2013 election here was extremely close, with Democrat Tim Eustace of Maywood winning only by the skin of his teeth. Thus, the race here between Eustace and his running mate Joseph Lagana of Paramus, and the Republican candidates, was originally expected to be close. However, that was before first one of the Republican candidates, and then the other, became embroiled in scandals, and thus allowed the Democratic incumbents to pull away. In the end, the Democrats won every town except Hawthorne and Hasbrouck Heights, mostly by wide margins, and this includes some towns that Romney won. The Democrats outperformed Obama in every town except those same two, Hawthorne and Hasbrouck Heights. The towns that saw the largest overperformances by the Democrats, over 10 points, were Paramus, Saddle Brook, and Rochelle Park. Turnout was mostly, but not entirely, above average, and seemed to be unrelated to the electoral performance of each town. The towns with the highest turnout were Glen Rock, Oradell, Maywood, and Hasbrouck Heights, while Saddle Brook and Lodi saw the lowest turnout.
District 39 is located mostly in northern Bergen, and contains a few towns in Passaic. It’s a Republican district, and its incumbents, Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale) and Robert Auth (R-Old Tappan), won re-election relatively easily, losing only Haworth. The Republican duo outperformed Romney in every town in the district except for Woodcliff Lake, mostly by wide margins. There was no major turnout pattern in the district; some towns, such as Park Ridge, Woodcliff Lake, Hillsdale, and Harrington Park, had high turnout; while others, such as Mahwah, Ramsey, Upper Saddle River, and River Vale, had low turnout.
District 40 is a strange collection of exurbs in four different counties that forms a semicircle around Paterson. Most of these exurbs are Republican areas. However, the Republican incumbents here, David Russo of Ridgewood and Scott Rumana of Wayne, had a surprisingly close re-election this time. They only lost three towns – Ridgewood, Woodland Park, and Little Falls – but they massively underperformed Romney in the entire Bergen County portion of the district (where the Democratic challengers were from), as well as in Woodland Park, Cedar Grove, and Pequannock. The Republicans did outperform Romney in Wayne, Pompton Lakes, Riverdale, and Totowa, however. Turnout here was generally above average.
And here are the maps:
Some general observations:
1) Areas with large Hispanic and/or Asian populations generally saw lower turnout than places with fewer Hispanics or Asians. However, there were plenty of rich white areas with very low turnout as well. Other factors in turnout were competitiveness of local, county, and state Assembly elections, and strength of local party organizations.
2) Despite Democrats’ generally performing well in state Assembly races, towns where Assembly Democrats underperformed Obama still greatly outnumbered towns where Assembly Democrats outperformed Obama (more about this here [link]). This speaks, in part, to a lack of Democratic organization in strongly Republican counties such as Sussex, Warren, Hunterdon, and Ocean.
3) Which party controls a town’s or county’s government can have an impact on how the town votes in Assembly elections. Democratic Assembly candidates almost definitely would have done worse in Brick and East Hanover had the electorates of those towns not simultaneously been re-electing Democratic mayors and/or council members in landslides. And the Republicans’ strong organization in Burlington County has definitely helped them hold onto local town governments and helped them do better in state Assembly races, and in fact that’s probably one reason why the Democrats didn’t contest LD-8.
I’ve also created a bunch of cool graphs of the municipality data using R; that can be found here.
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